It’s that time of year, Apple have released a public beta of their latest desktop operating system. Apple have relied on the ‘OS X’ moniker since the public beta of OS X 10.0 in 2000, so macOS Sierra is important to Apple, it marks a move away from the past, and towards a new ‘Post PC’ era. This is a continuation of Steve Jobs’ design to move away from the home PC being a hub for your other ‘satellite’ gadgets. Instead, the PC becomes demoted to just another gadget alongside your smart phone, your tablet and now ‘The Internet of Things’.
So has macOS Sierra neutered the Mac desktop OS, or is it a grand leap in to the Post PC era?
Instant impressions following the install are positive, any changes are subtle, in fact, apart from the new Siri Icon in the top right of the Menu Bar (why isn’t that black like the other icons?), you’d be forgiven for not noticing any changes from El Capitan (the final iteration of OS X).
Ok, so what’s new?
- Siri has finally come to the Mac. iPhone has been toting the pedantic helper since 2011, so why Apple has waited 5 years to bring her to the Mac is beyond me.
- Photos – will create slideshows of your memories based on faces, places and photo recognition algorithms.
- Apple Pay – Combined with Touch ID on your iPhone, you can now make online purchases through Apple Pay.
- Unlock with Apple Watch – based on proximity between the devices, this one will unlock your Mac without the need for a password or Touch ID.
- Universal Clipboard – Copy and paste between your devices, again based on proximity.
- iCloud Drive – Not much change here, just more power between your iCloud linked devices. However, Sierra will now analyse your storage on your Mac and try to create more space by sending less used files to the cloud.
- Messages has brought a few ‘fun new ways’ of formatting your messages, but there’s nothing ground breaking here.
- iTunes is now incorporating a revamped Apple Music, focusing on the ‘For You’ section to try and make Apple Music more personal than Spotify or Deezer.
- Tabs are something we are used to in Web Browsers, and since El Capitan Finder, however now even third party apps can use tabs to save screen real estate and make multi tasking easier.
- Picture in picture allows you to float a video in Safari or iTunes over other apps, and move the window around the display whilst you work on other documents.
There’s no doubt then that Apple have focused on integrating your Mac with your other devices instead of pushing any major changes on the Mac as a stand alone device. If you use Apple Watch, iPhone and maybe iPad as well, then you will love these new features, copy and paste between devices, Apple Watch Unlock and Apple Pay alone are pretty cool multi-device features. But what about Mac users who don’t have any other Apple devices, is Apple turning their backs on these users?
There are essentially 3 new features which will affect all Mac users, Siri, Tabs and Picture in picture.
Whether you like Voice Control or AI assistants, there’s no doubt Siri coming to the Mac is an important step towards what many companies (including Google and Amazon) believe is the future of consumer technology. From my first experiments with Siri on the Mac I can see that Siri already has more under the bonnet then previously seen on iOS:
Siri has never been good at understanding context based on previous questions and statements, so hopefully this simple little conversation is a sign of good things to come. You can also ask powerful questions like “Show me files I worked on yesterday” or “Show me emails from Jo” and it reacts just like Spotlight, pretty handy.
The tabs view in Pages is great, if you’re working on two documents but want to keep your desktop clean, this works well – although you do currently need to go in to View and select ‘Show Tab Bar’ to enable it. Will is revolutionise productivity, no, but it’s still a nice feature, I can’t imagine Web Browsers without Tabs these days!
Picture in picture
And finally Picture in picture, well it’s not the easiest thing to enable currently, so I’m hoping there’s some big changes coming the GUI on this one. If you are using macOS Sierra and haven’t got it to work yet, go to Youtube (in Safari) right click on the video, then right click again (you see what I mean) and click ‘Enter Picture-in-Picture’. It only allows you to place the video in the corners, so it’s fairly limited, but it’s a nice touch if you want to watch something whilst browsing, shopping or working.
All in all macOS Sierra is not a ground breaking desktop operating system. This isn’t such a bad thing though, Mac OS X has been a very slick and stable system since it’s initial public launch in 2001, and has certainly been far smoother and longer lived than it’s contemporaries (Windows XP, 7, 8 and 10). In fact in that time frame OS X changed very little, it just got smoother and more intuitive, so I’m glad to report we haven’t seen a radical overhaul in the style of Windows 8. We could potentially see a merging of iOS and macOS in the next few years, which could seriously clip the Mac’s wings, but so far so good.
If you are fully immersed in the Apple Eco-system, Watch, iPhone and Apple Music to be precise, then there’s some great features here that will make your experience smoother and quite exciting.
So for now it’s good news, whilst perhaps not the most exciting upgrade,macOs Sierra is an incremental upgrade of an extremely polished system, oh and for the first time since Mavericks it doesn’t have a name that customers outside the US find hard to pronounce and just plain odd.
As a final word of caution, although the public beta of macOS Sierra seems to be pretty stable so far, I would not advise you to upgrade your main computer at this point. Betas are by their very nature not fully tested software, and likely to have bugs. If you do decide to take the plunge, make sure you have a full back up safely stashed away before you do it!